$115 billion needed to finish Hanford cleanup

The Department of Energy has taken a look at all the environmental cleanup yet to be completed at the Hanford nuclear reservation and come up with a big price tag: $115 billion.

That's what it projects will be required to finish environmental cleanup in about 2060 and then prevent any intrusion into areas, such as landfills holding radioactive waste, until 2090.

There has never been an exact figure on remaining cleanup costs, although estimates a few years ago put the cost at more than $100 billion, said Ron Skinnarland, the section manager of waste management for the Washington State Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator.

DOE agreed that the cost and schedule is not far from estimates reported to Congress in January 2009.

Hanford, a 586-square-mile site, is contaminated with radioactive and chemical waste from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The report, the 2011 Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report, is a new requirement of the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement, after DOE negotiated with the state and Environmental Protection Agency to extend some environmental cleanup deadlines.

DOE is required to continue preparing the report annually. It is intended to provide costs and schedules that should provide a basis for agency and public discussion of cleanup priorities, including for discussions of annual budget requests.

Annual costs in the report are based on legal requirements and deadlines, and the report shows that in five future years annual budgets of at least $3 billion would be required, including four years before 2020. It's an unlikely amount given the realities of the federal budget.

Typical annual budgets at Hanford have been around $2 billion, although the addition of federal economic stimulus money has increased spending recently. However, most stimulus spending ends in seven weeks.

If the federal government cannot keep funding at the levels in the report, cleanup will take longer, Skinnarland said.

"It may scare Congress, but it points out the need for cleanup here ... and how much work needs to be funded to protect the environment and human health," he said.

The annual budget projections to complete cleanup do not drop below $2 billion until 2046, but then would fall off quickly. Costs in the report are in 2010 dollars escalated for inflation.

About 55 percent of the remaining cost is for work under the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, which is responsible for treating 56 million gallons of radioactive waste now held in underground tanks.

For some parts of Hanford cleanup, decisions have not yet been made about what will be required. For those, the report was required to make a plausible, upper-range estimate, but each annual report will take a closer look at certain projects.

The recently released report considers tearing down eight plutonium production reactors rather than the current plan of sealing up their cores to let radioactivity decay to more manageable levels over 75 years.

Tearing down the reactors would increase the estimated $115 billion total cost for cleanup by $676 million.

The report also looked at the cost to dig up certain waste buried in central Hanford before 1970 that may be contaminated with plutonium. In 1970, Congress said that in the future such waste would go to a national repository, later established as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The $115 billion estimated proposes placing barriers over those waste sites at a cost of $823 million.

If DOE were to dig up the waste instead, that would cost $16.6 billion rather than $823 million.

Comments on the report may emailed to LCCSS@rl.gov or mailed to Shannon Ortiz, Lifecycle Report Project Manager, DOE Richland Operations Office, 825 Jadwin Ave., MSIN: A5-16, Richland, WA 99352.

* To read the report, go to www.hanford.gov.

* More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.